Sometimes when Keith Getty says he writes hymns for the church, people laugh.
"Perhaps you also have a future in black-and-white television," someone suggested. "Or maybe you should consider a career selling typewriters."
The musician from Northern Ireland was undeterred by reactions like this, and today, "In Christ Alone," a hymn he wrote with Stuart Townend, is one of the best-known songs of the church.
Getty didn't become a hymn writer for lack of things to do, or as a way to make a name for himself. He has considerable talent as a musician and works with various high-profile performers in the United Kingdom as well as the United States.
"There are two reasons we write modern hymns," Keith says on their Web site. "First, it's to help teach the faith. What we sing affects how we think, how we feel and, ultimately, how we live, so it's so important that we sing the whole scope of truth the Bible has given us. The second reason is to try and create a more timeless musical style that every generation can sing, a style that relates to the past and the future."
The simple folk melody and storytelling lyrical style of "In Christ Alone" has given rise to its universal appeal, said Keith, who with his wife, Kristyn, have been living in the United States for two years.
The two have been touring the country as The Getty's reintroducing people to the classic beauty of hymns. They will be in the nation's capital in early February for the National Prayer Breakfast before a tour of Southern California later in the month.
It's those traditional venues that help the Gettys to showcase the simplicity of their music.
When the Gettys perform, Keith plays keyboards and Kristyn provides the vocals. Their fans say they are not only moved by the deep-meaning lyrics, but they are also captured by Kristyn's worshipful radiance and the mesmerizing serenity of her voice, making the live performance a soothing, light and refreshing spiritual experience.
"My main conviction with melody is the same as that of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Gershwin, Burt Bacharach and The Beatles, which is looking at folk music melody in its simplest form," Keith says. "The simplicity of the melody helps make it more accessible, and I believe melody is so fundamental to human culture and psyche."
Of equal importance to the formula of the modern hymn is the story.
"I love storytelling in songs, and I think people love stories," Keith shares. "People will sing theology forever if the song takes them on a journey, and with 'In Christ Alone,' I wanted to write a song that would tell the whole story of the life of Christ, almost like a modern creed."
The Gettys, who are living in a small home on a lake 40 minutes from Cleveland, Ohio, are constantly traveling and performing during their two-year stay in this country. They were asked how they stay fresh and focused in their relationship with Jesus.
"People mostly become like the people that are around them," Keith observes.
So when it was decided that they would spend two years in the States, they deliberately chose to live outside the music industry. Because of the nature of their music, the Gettys are hosted by churches that are particularly passionate about the Bible, Kristyn said in a recent phone interview. She points to that as one of the things that nourishes their own spiritual life.
For Kristyn, air travel keeps her faith lively. She's not particularly fond of flying.
"There's nothing like flying every few days, going high up in the air, trusting two pilots with your life," she says, laughing. "There's nothing like that."
But Keith and Kristyn also make use of that time to read and study.
"My wife and I do the One-Year Bible," Keith said. "On travel days, that's how I begin the plane journey."
Kristyn said it helps her to stay grounded.
"It's so helpful," Kristyn says. "It keeps you on track. If you can keep on reading and reading and reading and asking questions, you'll grow in your spiritual life."
Another thing that has worked for them, she says, is keeping a prayer diary together.
"We pray for certain things each day of the week," she said.
Her husband said he also gets enjoyment from God's creations.
"Conversation with inspiring people, beauty of nature, reading, time with my wife," Keith says. "All of those things help me in different ways."
Kristyn, her melodic Irish lilt adding its own musical flair, said life is about living with God.
"Fearing him, yes, but enjoying God," she said. "The truth gives us the freedom to be what we are."
For more information, visit www.gettymusic.com.